There are many famous criminals in the history. They become well-known thanks to their infamous crimes. Sometimes, their popularity grows so much that they become some sort of legendary criminals, and unfortunately, some people even idealize these criminals thinking of them as of romantic rebels who wanted to break the system. Nevertheless, things are much more prosaic, because there is usual simple explanation for people’s crimes. They commit these crimes out of desire to get personal gains or social background. An example of Al Capone, Chicago infamous gangster, can prove these theories.
Al Capone was born in 1899 in New York to Italian immigrants (FBI, n.d.). His family was not rich, but children were treated well and had a normal childhood. Capone had many brothers and sisters, and some of them became involved in his “gang” business. His family lived in a community which consisted of Italians mostly, and children did not interact with other nationalities much. Soon after Al’s birth, the family moved to another apartment in a different area. There was a mix of people from different backgrounds, and Capone children could communicate not only with Italians.
Al Capone went to American school which was not suitable for teaching children of the Italian background. The teachers were very strict and prejudiced toward children of Italian immigrants, and the students were often exposed to beatings by fellow students. The school may be one of the causes that led to Capone’s future as gangster. There, although he was a pretty good student, he would often lose his temper. Once, a teacher got angry with him and beat him. Al Capone lost his temper and beat her back. He was expelled when he was only fourteen, and he never returned to school again.
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Such aggression in school explains a lot about Capone’s development as a teenager and influences which led him to his criminal life. After being expelled from schoo,l Al Capone began communicating with people involved in gangs. There was a strong gang in Chicago in that time. Johnny Torrio was its leader. Torrio organized racketeers into a group of gangsters who were acting according to his planning. He formed a gang which had a good structure and was well-organized. Thanks to Torrio, Capone learned about basics of “crime business”. Nevertheless, he was still not a criminal himself. His family was doing just fine; he was living with his parents and had no intention to leave then. One can say that despite many challenges, Capone was able to avoid being dragged into the criminal life. Nevertheless, the year he turned eighteen, he became one step closer to his future of a criminal leader. He became a bartender in a café of Frankie Yale, another city gangster who knew Torrio well. Once, during work, Capone saw a girl he liked. He complimented her, but her brother took the compliment as the offence. He cut his face few times; as a resul, Al Capone was left with several scars on his face which remained throughout his life. After that, he was punished by Yale. That incident taught Capone to restrain his temper and some valuable skills needed for a gang leader. He realized the cruelty of gangs and their leaders and the necessity to have a cold mind while making cruel decisions.
Yale’s presence led Capone to committing small crimes and dragging deeper into the criminal world. It was during that time when nineteen-year-old Capone fell in love and married an Irish girl who was pregnant with his first child, Sonny. With his family, Capone tried to quit his criminal experience and got an honest job. His father’s death changed the situation. After his father died, Capone, who no longer had a fatherly figure, decided to embrace into the criminal world fully. Then he contacted Torrio one more time: “It was 1921 and Capone had turned his back on respectability forever” (Bardsley, n.d.). Torrio proposed Al Capone to move to Chicago where Al joined his gang. He was Torrio’s right hand until Torrio was badly injured and “retired” from criminal. Then, Al became a leader of the gang. He quickly gained control in Chicago working with many gangsters and organizing them, so they recognized him as their leader. His business was connected with illegal alcohol selling during Prohibition era, prostitution, organized attacks, bribery, and tax machinations. Ironically, many did not think of Capone as of a criminal, but rather as of Robin Hood thanks to his participation in many charities. In 1929, there was a Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre with gangsters being shot by rivals loyal to Capone, and Capone was considered the main organizer behind it (although it was never proven). In thirties, Capone was sent to jail for few times for some crimes; he spent almost five years in Alcatraz where he still managed to control his gang empire from behind the bars (Cave, 2010). Nevertheless, in prison, Capone’s health declined. After he was released, he could no longer lead a gang (Capone, 2012). He retired and led a calm life until his death at the age of 48. His doctor said that shortly before death, Capone’s consciousness was such as of a twelve-year-old boy.
There are certain approaches while analyzing and interpreting Capone’s crimes. First, one may try to explain his crimes and violence with psychological theories. For example, a factor which led to violent crimes in the future may be the violence Capone experienced in school. He was unable to fight back, especially with teachers insulting and slapping him; the only time he tried to defend himself, he was expelled. Hence, the inability to defend himself and crooked sense of justice led to his desire for revenge. Psychoanalytic theory explains Capone’s behavior as a reaction to improper socialization during his childhood.
The same can be seen with Capone’s experience in Yale’s café. After he was beaten and received his scars, they were always there to remind him of his shame. His close cooperation and communication with gangsters (although not direct participation) led to his ideas about justice being distorted. Cognitive development theory explains Capone’s crimes as the result of wrong ideas on morality and society. Capone believed that force was the main determinant of justice and that he could adjust law to his acts, not vice versa. That was the cause he regarded his crimes as something normal and did not find anything wrong about committing them.
One can see that the factors which influenced Capone’s behavior can be easily applied to psychological theories which explain why he acted the way he did. One can also use learning theory to explain Capone’s behavior and crimes. His communication with gangsters showed him that they did not get punished for their crimes thanks to the ability to bribe the needed people and having “scapegoats” for their actions. Hence, they were very successful in their own way without being responsible for the acts they did. Capone learned that with clever approach, he could be just like that.
Another factor which led to criminal “occupation” was the death of Capone’s father. The father was a figure Capone looked at with pride and admiration as a person who could lead such a big family. Nevertheless, Capone was obviously disappointed with the state of things in his family, because they were not rich enough, and he had a new family on his own. Thus, the death of an honest father who worked well and could judge his son for criminal behavior let Capone choose a criminal path since there was no one who would oppose such a decision. Capone realized that he was the one leading the family now, and as a leader, he was making decisions no one could contradict.
Community in which Capone grew up also contributed greatly to his crime life. For example, it was not a very rich neighborhood where young boys from immigrants’ families were having a hard time finding what they wanted to do in life. They did not have many opportunities due to inability to get a good education. They could either follow their fathers’ steps or choose a life of criminals. Many young people were frustrated with limited choices they had, and they joined gangs. They viewed gangs as a way to free themselves. Young Capone also knew that honest life would not bring him prosperity in his community. This factor may be explained by sociological strain theory. It focuses on the gaps Capone had while planning something and opportunities he got thanks to crime.
Thus, one can see that there were many factors which led Capone to his criminal experience. There were also other factors which were pushing him on his way as a criminal legend. First of all, Capone realized that in order to maintain control, he had to be violent. Hence, violent crimes were the necessity to keep his status and make other gangsters follow him as well as warn rivalry gangs. He viewed criminal life as a business which had certain rules that had to be followed. Al Capone realized that in order to be a leader, he had to make others fear and respect him, and he used the violence as a tool for that. The ability to control his emotions helped him greatly, because he viewed organized crimes and violence as the necessary business steps.
Another factor to commit crimes was the benefits the crimes gave Capone. He became a rich man who had a huge influence. He was a public figure and could do almost everything he wanted. Hence, thanks to crimes, Capone was leading a life of his dreams where he was a rich leader having a great (from one point of view) life.
One can apply sociological theories to explain these factors. Rational choice theory shows that Capone committed his crimes in order to get selfish gains. These gains could be not only money, but also status and respect. For example, Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre showed that Capote desperately wanted other gangsters to fear him. Hence, in order to spread fear among people, he showed that he would use any methods he could. Rational choice shows that people usually act depending on their self-interests, and they may commit crimes if they find them necessary and effective to achieve what they want without being punished. Capone used crimes to scare his rivals, make profits, and remain a respected and well-known leader.
According to social strain theory which was mentioned above, Capone used crimes as the only tool and opportunity he had to achieve his goals. Since he was not born with necessary opportunities, and he failed to find them in the society he was living in , he turned to crime as a way to become what he wanted to be.
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Capone’s background and community he was living in contributed greatly to him committing crimes. Social disorganization theory explains these crimes as a result of the social environment. Capone grew up in a community where gangsters were more influential than police since they were the ones “doing justice”. People came to gangsters whenever there were problems they could not solve, and gangsters were the ones dealing with these problems. Hence, people feared gangsters, but at the same time, they respected and communicated with them viewing gangsters as society’s regulators. Capone grew up in a community which provided children with poor education and little opportunities; hence, he viewed criminals as people who, in some way, lived a better life. Social disorganization theory is connected to social learning theory which shows that depending on people one communicates with; he or she learns how to act. Capone’s cooperation with Yale and Torrio introduced young Capone to a new life; through them, he “learned” how to commit crimes.
Capone’s crimes can also be explained by social control theory. Previously, it was stated that Capone wanted others to fear and respect him. To put it simply, he wanted to be in control. Capone was a smart man who realized that control was everything in the society of that time. With a certain status, he could do everything to the point of influencing politicians. Hence, crimes were giving him influence, power over those who feared him, and control as a result.
Labeling sociological theory can be closely connected to learning psychological theory. Capone’s view on justice was not as that of an average American who thought that stealing or killing was wrong, because it was influenced by gangsters who surrounded him.
Conflict theory is especially important in Capone’s case. He was a man who had to compete with many others for things he valued. Obviously, he was not the only one who wanted to be a leader, and there were others who would gladly take his “position” from him. Hence, he used crimes as a tool to be the winner in a competition for leadership and power.
It is also necessary to speak about Capone within historical framework of the crimes. Capone was operating in Chicago which was well-known for its organized crime. The city was filled with corrupt policemen and politicians who “closed” their eyes on some crimes depending on the money they were receiving from criminals (Sorel, & Sorel, 1995). In Chicago, there were many powerful gangs who developed from mere stealing and established strong empires which were operating in certain business areas. For example, in Chicago, there were “clans” which had bars with prostitutes, sold alcohol illegally, ran gaming business, etc. Hence, the city established criminal activity as the profitable business. Capone’s acts were dictated by the necessity to survive in such a competitive gang city as well as defeat opponents. At that time, crimes were typical solutions for different conflicts between various gangs and police. Murdering somebody was not viewed as an act against human nature, but a mere business step. Hence, historical framework and social expectations in Chicago at that time explained why Capone was the one he decided to be.
Analysis of Capone’s crimes showed that he was a smart man who used his intelligence for the wrong goals. His crimes’ interpretations showed that although society of that time was not perfect, it was Capone’s free choice to become a gangster. He committed crimes, because he found many reasons for that. Thus, there is no point in idealizing a man who used murder to get what he wanted.